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Homeless day center idea faces opposition

Instructors and students who use The Grove for classes and events have expressed alarm at a proposal to use the building for a drop-in center for homeless youths and an alternative school.

On Monday evening, the Ashland Homelessness Steering Committee endorsed a proposal from the nonprofit organization Community Works to use The Grove for a daytime school and evening drop-in center.

News of the vote triggered an uproar among people concerned about the potential impact on Ashland Parks and Recreation Department classes and other events held at The Grove.

Most classes are taught by community members who get a share of fees.

The City Council would have to approve the proposal to change the use of The Grove, a city-owned building on East Main Street near Garfield Park and the Ashland Police Department.

Community Works has proposed operating its Lithia Springs School out of The Grove. The alternative school on Mistletoe Road is for middle- and high-school-age juvenile offenders.

Homeless youths age 13-21 could receive services at The Grove, and all Ashland teens and young adults would be welcome to hang out there, according to the Community Works proposal.

Parks Director Don Robertson said that 3,000 people used The Grove during the last fiscal year for classes, private rentals, meetings and other events.

Fitness, dance, art, crafts, language, bicycle safety, dog training and food preservation are among the classes being offered there from September through December, according to the Parks Department's recently released fall recreation guide.

The department has an open house scheduled at The Grove from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, for people to meet fall instructors, learn more about classes and get registration assistance. The building is at 1195 E. Main St.

The Grove was in use for at least part of the day for 317 days during the last fiscal year, Robertson said.

"If the city were to repurpose The Grove, we couldn't continue to provide classes there," Robertson said. "We'd have to look at a couple of different options."

He said options would include relocating classes to Pioneer Hall and the Community Center, both of which are on Winburn Way.

Those buildings can be rented out for weddings, receptions, birthday parties, meetings, conferences and other events.

Even if classes bumped those other uses, there still would not be enough room in Pioneer Hall and the Community Center for the classes, Robertson said.

Other options include renting space from the Ashland School District, he said.

A costly, long-term option could be to replace the Ashland Senior Center and nearby Daniel Meyer Pool buildings with a multi-purpose building. The Parks Department does not have money for that project, Robertson said.

Further complicating matters, the Parks Department has a formal agreement with the city to use The Grove through this fiscal year, which lasts until the end of June 2013, he said.

Community Works' lease on its alternative school building ends in February 2013. The nonprofit could potentially go to a month-to-month lease while it waits to take over use of The Grove, according to representatives from the nonprofit.

Community Works has proposed leasing The Grove from the city for $1 per year.

Robertson said the Parks Department pays city government $45,000 annually for use of the building. Recreation programs generated $66,700 during the last fiscal year, and rentals garnered $3,000.

Ashland Fire & Rescue, the Community Emergency Response Team program and Ashland police use the building up to twice a month at no charge, Robertson said.

Ashland lacks a day center or overnight shelter for homeless people, although community buildings are opened up for emergency overnight shelter when temperatures drop.

At The Grove, Community Works has proposed offering shower and laundry facilities, lockers, computers for youths to write resumes, donated clothing, life skills classes, hygiene supplies, referrals to transitional housing programs and other services.

Part of the group's aim is to divert youths from falling into long-term homelessness, representatives said.

Community Works also would have music programs and recreational offerings such as basketball. The Grove houses a gym as well as multiple smaller rooms.

Among its many programs, Community Works does street outreach to homeless youths in Ashland, offers transitional housing and serves warm meals on Wednesdays and Fridays in Lithia Park. Those meals would be served at The Grove.

The Grove opened in 2000 as a youth center, but lost federal funding because it could not meet a quota that 51 percent of the youths it served be low income.

The city of Ashland paid back about $350,000 in federal Housing and Urban Development grants and took over use of the building, according to Housing Program Specialist Linda Reid.

In 2011, a proposal to shift Ashland police into The Grove provoked an outcry from residents and class instructors who use the space.

The City Council abandoned that plan after learning that remodeling and expanding the Ashland police station would be cheaper than upgrading The Grove to accommodate police operations.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.